One Leaf at a Time

lots of leavesIt was a beautiful and sunny fall morning as we pulled up to Ms. Jackson’s* home to take part in another family volunteer event. The Broady family, consisting of Gabriella, husband Dan, and two sons, volunteered again with the HOME program, which stands for “Home & Outdoor Maintenance for the Elderly.”

Walking up to Ms. Jackson’s front door, we thought, “Oh, this won’t take too long; it’s not bad at all!” We met Ms. Jackson and decided to tour the yard to get a sense of our project. As we went around to the backyard, a sea of golden leaves, several inches think, took us by surprise.

My husband, sons and I raked for nearly 4 hours,  with a five-minute rest to sample a few handmade cookies from Ms. Jackson, who was so happy to see her lawn being cleared. We filled 40 lawn and leaf bags raking by hand; we ran out of the “approved” bag types, and had to leave the rest for when more bags were delivered.

Lessons Learned
How is a volunteer leaf-raking exercise like working on a project?

As a learning designer, I try to reflect on lessons I learn from each project and each client. As the boys and I drove home, exhausted and yet proud of our efforts, we discussed what “we’d do differently next time.” These items apply to good project management skills, too!

1. Know Your Scope: In this case, we had 4 people and 3 hours of available time. We needed either more time, or more resources to get this done. In any project, find out what your scope is (do we need to rake out the garden/flower bed areas too?) and what constraints are, so the project is clear to all parties.

2. Bring the Right Tools: We brought work gloves, bottled waters, and a rake for each person. We also had 40 lawn-n-leaf bags from our host home. We needed at least 10 more bags, and determined that next year, we’d bring our leaf blowers…and maybe even our lawn mowing mulcher! Not having the right tools to complete your project impacts the amount of materials and time needed, not to mention that it can wear out your team!

3. Designate Roles & Responsibilities: We quickly realized that our ten your old son was not going to be able to rake as long as the three adult-size people in our family, but we had a task he was perfect for — jumping in the bags and squishing leaves down so we could fill them as much as possible. He also had the task of taking the bags to the curb after they were full, so we could keep raking. Assigning roles to people on your project teams is critical; even more so, is assigning the RIGHT people to the RIGHT task.

4. Communicate with Your Sponsor & Your Project Teammates: We realized we did not have enough bags, and that we were running out of time. We decided as a family that we would get everything raked into the last two piles, then pick up as much as we could. We talked with Ms. Jackson about hour plan and told her we would stay as long as there were bags needing to be filled.

5. Debrief Your Project Experience. All, in all, it was a great project, and we loved being able to help Ms. Jackson. However, we learned that it’s important to debrief what we liked (sun, helping someone, pretty leaves), what we didn’t (not enough bags, larger yard than we could easily handle), and what we’d do differently next time.

6. Celebrate a job well done. We appreciated the boys’ hard work, and went out for lunch at the malt shop before their sports practices began. Letting your team know how much their efforts mean is tantamount to continued project success and engagement.

Volunteering: Giving Back 
This volunteer event was part of Yellow Giraffe Learning’s 5 for 5 Give Back Campaign. Yellow Giraffe donates 1 hour of time/$ to a good cause, and 1-hour free kickoff meeting to clients as a way to say thank you for 5 years of business ownership. We have now completed 4 projects!

* Name changed to protect individual privacy.